Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Air Force Is Working On A New Bomber

Boeing Long Range Strike Bomber Concept Art
Boeing

The U.S. Air Force is quietly ramping up spending on a future bomber, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service published earlier this month. The Air Force also sent requirements for the program to the industry earlier this week. The goal is a new group of bombers to serve two functions: replace the aging bomber fleet, and safely attack despite future defensive weapons. 

Work on Air Force's next bomber began years ago. Here's what Popular Science said about it in 2012:

Patents and bid proposals from Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-2, suggest that the new bomber will be narrower than the B-2 but maintain the familiar flying wing design, which reduces radar reflection by minimizing hard edges. Engineers are also testing new types of radar-absorbing coatings that could be customized to individual defense systems. And so a picture of the next generation of stealth bombers is beginning to emerge.

Such a bomber would greatly expand the ability of the Air Force to hit protected places in enemy countries, places beyond the safe reach of America's still-flying Cold War-era B-52 bombers. The Air Force expects to field between 80 and 100 of the new Long Range Strike Bomber, and they plan to have them ready for action by the mid 2020s.

Lockheed Long Range Strategic Bomber Concept Art
Lockheed Martin

In March, people reported and photographed what appeared to be a new, v-shaped aircraft flying over Texas. This theory meshes well with the Congressional Research Service report, which saw a rapid budget increase and notes that:

the projected LRS-B budget increases more than 10-fold in the current Future Years Defense Program, from $258.7 million in FY2013 to $3,451.2 million in FY2019. Aviation analysts and industry officials confirm CRS's assessment that this funding stream resembles a production program more than a typical development profile. This may indicate that significant LRS-B development has already been completed, presumably in classified budgets. Such prior development would also help explain how the Air Force intends to get the system from a Request for Proposals to initial operational capability in about 10 years, when equally or less-complicated systems like the F-22 and F-35 have taken more than 20.

Despite corporate maneuvering about the contract, both the Air Force and potential industry partners are keeping quiet about the development. In a triumph of blandness, Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James told the U.S. Naval Institute in a statement that "The [Long range Strike Bomber] is a top modernization priority for the Air Force. It will be an adaptable and highly capable system based upon mature technology." 








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